“Lucky bird inside a guilded cage...Everything you may have in life, still, all you hold is dust. Must I yearn forever to be free? Free to wander? There's no desire I hold fonder than to be, simply me, to be free.” ~ Words and music by Alan Menken
Will Ashford, of 'Outing the Quarterback' by Tara Lain, appears to have everything anyone could want—a blue Ferrari, platinum credit card; he is his college's star quarterback; he has a beautiful young woman on his arm. All of this, yet he is unhappy. Will is following his father's plan for his life instead of his own. He has secrets he is trying desperately to keep—he loves to paint and suspects he is gay. When he meets one young man in particular, Noah Zajack, he's more convinced than ever. How can Will keep himself in his father's good graces while fulfilling his dream as an artist and have the freedom he wants? Trying to balance all these things is seriously affecting his mental health.
Like many of Tara's awesome characters, Will is not what he seems at first glance. Unable to come out, Will resorts to some seedy behavior to get sexual satisfaction. Will goes out of his way to please his wealthy, but dysfunctional family who, unfortunately, hold the purse strings. As a result of trying to seem like the all-American boy, Will finds himself lying, deceiving, and using people in order to keep his secrets. Being quarterback of his team pleases his father, but Will does not get the satisfaction he should be getting out of it, i.e., he doesn't live, eat, and sleep the sport. Will has a great team spirit and hangs in there because he doesn't want to disappoint the coach and the other team members, or the whole school for that matter. They depend on him and he tries to deliver. This is all well and good, but in trying to please others, he's making himself miserable. Painting is the only thing that makes him happy. The satisfaction of seeing one of his finished portraits makes him glow with pride. Will must hide this desire, especially from his father, who thinks if you can't make lots of money doing it, it's a foolish pursuit. Will's life takes a new turn when he meets Noah Zajack, a student in a special art class that he secretly attends. He's attracted to Noah, but isn't sure how to proceed. They are so different that he figures a relationship would never work, but, somehow, he still falls into one. As his feelings for Noah grow, so does the confusion around him. While he's contemplating a way to live an honest life with Noah, the web of lies he's created begins to unravel and the truth comes out. His macho masquerade is over.
Noah's life is just the opposite of Will's. He's had to work extremely hard for everything he has. Noah is a survivor who has had to fend for himself for years. Determined to pursue his passion for painting, Noah does what he has to do to make that happen, i.e., working three jobs to be able to have his own place, albeit small, and attend art classes at the local college. His dream is to win the Milton Scholarship, a comprehensive art scholarship, and he's talented enough to win it. The one thing he will not do for his dream is be forced into something that he doesn't want to do. Noah is independent and that's how he wants it. He has no intention of putting himself under the control of anyone else. Noah makes his own decisions in life. Noah is attracted to Will when he first sees him, but gets the wrong impression. Noah's first impression is that Will is privileged and, therefore, has it easy; Noah doesn't know how trapped Will feels because he's living his father's dream instead of his own. Since his Father holds the purse strings, Will has to remain in the closet or lose all financial support. As Noah gets to know WIll better, he sees that, in many ways, his life is better than Will's. Instead of adding to the confusion and trying to drag him out of the closet, he's extremely understanding and supportive, telling Will that he needs to decide for himself when and if he can come out and live an honest, happy life.
Tara has done a wonderful job of contrasting and comparing Noah and Will's lives. Whether poor little rich boy or self-made man, inside, they want and need the same things—love, independence, and freedom to pursue what makes them happy. It's not often that I am equally impressed by both main characters, but Noah and Will have certainly endeared themselves to me. I was really rooting for these two young men who are met with seemingly insurmountable challenges, and overcome them all. I recommend this story to everyone who loves football, painting, hot men, hotter sex, and truthfulness. Thanks, Tara, for the inspiring story.